Don’t fight the Fed.
The Federal Reserve (Fed) is the central bank of the United States. A longstanding bit of investment wisdom is: Don’t fight the Fed. It means that investors should align their strategies with the Fed’s monetary policy. Economic growth is influenced by Fed policy, and stock markets tend to reflect the economy, rising when it grows and falling when it contracts. As a result, Kent Thune of The Balance reported, when the Fed is:
China is out of favor with investors.
For decades, China was among the fastest-growing economies in the world. Its real gross domestic product, which is the value of all goods and services it produces, grew by about nine percent a year, on average, from 1978 through 2022, according to The World Bank. However, the pace of economic growth in China slowed over the last decade and dropped sharply during the pandemic.
We’ve been hearing a lot about layoffs.
Last week, the January 2024 Challenger Report found that employers based in the United States cut more than 82,000 jobs in January. That’s a lot. In December 2023, about 35,000 layoffs were announced. The January job cuts were concentrated in a few industries, and the reasons for the cuts included companies restructuring to lower costs and reorienting toward artificial intelligence.
Are you feeling optimistic or pessimistic?
Consumers are a force to be reckoned with – and we’re all consumers. We buy coats and tweezers, electricity and bread, screens and fishing poles. We download apps and games and educational materials. As consumers, we are vital to the American economy. In fact, consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S. economy when it’s measured using gross domestic product or GDP.
Is inflation retreating?
Last week, we received a lot of information about inflation. Some seemed to support the idea that inflation was sticky, meaning it wasn’t moving lower, while other data suggested inflation was in retreat. Here’s what we learned...
And we’re off…to a slow start.
Last week, investors appeared to suffer from a New Year’s hangover. The culprit was too much optimism.
If all you wanted for Christmas was two percent inflation, you’re in luck!
Barring unforeseen events, it appears the United States Federal Reserve (Fed) is on the cusp of accomplishing a feat many thought impossible – reducing inflation without causing a recession.
Have rates peaked?
Last week, at its final policy meeting for 2023, the United States Federal Reserve indicated that rates may have peaked. After the meeting, Chair Jerome Powell said...
Still exceeding expectations.
Last week, the United States Treasury market rallied. Yields fell and bond prices rose as some bond market investors enthusiastically embraced the idea that the Federal Reserve will soon change course. Michael Mackenzie and Rich Miller of Bloomberg explained...
We’re cycling along.
It’s easy to forget that economic activity tends to move in cycles. A full cycle, known as the business cycle, typically includes four stages...
In November, investors were more optimistic than consumers.
At the start of November, investors were decidedly bearish. During the week of November 1, the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey found that about 50 percent of respondents were pessimistic about the prospects for stocks over the next six months, and about 24 percent were bullish. The current historic averages are 31 percent bearish and 37.5 percent bullish. (The remainder are neutral.)
Is it done? (We’re not talking about the turkey.)
Last week, investors enthusiastically embraced the idea that the Federal Reserve (Fed) could be done raising rates – and that it might even begin to lower them. As conviction about the possibility of rate cuts increased, stock and bond markets rallied, reported Koh Gui Qing and Dhara Ranasinghe of Reuters.
Earnings grew in the third quarter.
Four times a year, during earnings season, publicly traded companies report how well they performed during the previous quarter. The strength of corporate earnings – also known as bottom-line profits – is one of the economic indicators that investors watch closely.
Will there be a year-end rally?
Last week, there was a lot of speculation about whether the United States will see a year-end stock market rally. Some say yes, and some say no.
The Mark Twain Effect?
Historically, economic theory was based on the idea that financial decisions were grounded in rational thought. In recent years, behavioral economists have recognized that people don’t always behave rationally. In fact, research has found that investors like shortcuts that help simplify decision-making. While rules of thumb can be helpful, it’s important to use common sense. Some investment theories are a bit wacky, such as...
Stay calm and consider the big picture.
Today, investors have a myriad of worries that are creating tremendous uncertainty. A September Investopedia survey found investors are concerned about how their investments may be affected by...
Markets were resilient.
Last week, investors had a lot to process – geopolitics, inflation, consumer sentiment, the possibility of government shutdown – and markets were volatile. Toward the end of the week, some investors were reassured when earnings season kicked off with reports showing major banks posted stronger-than-expected profits during the third quarter. Here’s a brief look at what happened during the week:
Financial markets lost ground during the third quarter.
While year-to-date returns for the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index remain above the historic average, which was 10.24 percent, including dividends, from 1973 to 2022, the rally in U.S. stocks stalled during the third quarter of 2023, reported Lewis Krauskopf, Ankika Biswas and Shashwat Chauhan of Reuters.
Inflation is slowing but consumers aren’t feeling it.
In August, for the first time in two years, inflation (excluding volatile food and energy costs) dropped below four percent. Last week, one of the Federal Reserve (Fed)’s favored inflation measures – the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index – indicated that prices rose 3.9 percent, year-over-year, in August 2023. That’s an improvement from January, when prices rose by 4.9 percent, year-over-year, but it remains above the Fed’s target of 2 percent.
How high will they go?
Just as the market anticipated, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) chose not to raise interest rates last week. However, Fed officials made it clear another rate increase might be necessary before the end of 2023 as continued economic strength, higher energy prices, robust consumer spending, and rising wages in a strong labor market have kept upward pressure on inflation.
Adding new ingredients to the economic blender.
The performance of United States economy in 2023 has been as unexpected as a lentil-avocado-cinnamon smoothie – a tasty surprise. Last week, economic data suggested the Federal Reserve may need to do more to slow the economy. The consumer price index showed inflation edging higher, wholesale inflation was higher than expected (largely due to higher energy prices), and retail sales were healthy.
All the work, work, work.
2023 has been a remarkable year so far. It has, “confounded economists, humbled forecasters, and rewarded investors” reported Nicholas Jasinski of Barron’s. Jasinksi continued “Despite a rapid rise in interest rates, the U.S. economy continues to grow. Inflation has fallen – if not quite to desired levels – and stocks have entered a bull market, with the S&P 500 gaining 17% year to date and the Nasdaq Composite up more than 30%”.
If you’ve ever waited in traffic while the center section of a bridge lifts to allow ships and sailboats to pass underneath, you may have noticed the enormous counterweight that lowers as the bridge moves higher. When the boats have passed, the counterweight rises, and the bridge lowers back into place.
The Chinese government’s zero-COVID policy took the wind from the sails of its economy. When the government finally ended the policy earlier this year, many economists anticipated that pent-up consumer demand would refill China’s economic sails, lifting the global economy, reported Malcolm Scott of Bloomberg. Instead, China’s economy is in an economic doldrum, recovering far more slowly than...
Higher bond yields may be good for income investors – and not so good for stock markets.
After more than a decade of near-zero interest rates, the “free money” era – a time when people and businesses could borrow money and repay it with very low (or no) interest – may be over.
Consumer sentiment is a lagging indicator. It’s also a contrarian indicator.
After rising sharply in June and July, consumer sentiment leveled off this month. The preliminary August reading for the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index was 71.2. That’s slightly below July’s reading, although it’s up 22.3 percent year-over-year, and up 42 percent from its all-time low of 50 (June 2022). The historic average for the Index is 86.
An unwelcome surprise.
Last week, Fitch Ratings startled markets by lowering the credit rating of United States Treasuries from AAA to AA+. It was the second rating agency to downgrade U.S. Treasuries; Standard & Poor’s cut its rating to AA+ in 2011, reported Benjamin Purvis and Simon Kennedy of Bloomberg.
Central bank palooza!
While music lovers attended concerts and festivals across the United States, central banks had a lollapalooza of their own. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) led things off last Wednesday, followed by the European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday, and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Friday. Here’s what happened:
Disinflation was in the air!
To the great relief of the Federal Reserve, the American economy has been experiencing “disinflation,” which is a slowdown in the rate of inflation. For example, last week we learned that...
Markets are playing Federal Reserve (Fed) Clue.
Last week, investors parsed the monthly Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for clues about whether the Fed will raise the federal funds rate at its next meeting or leave the rate unchanged, reported Megan Leonhardt of Barron’s. The Fed has been aggressively raising the rate to slow the pace of inflation. Higher rates typically lead to slower economic growth and fewer jobs, so the employment report offers some signals about the Fed’s progress so far and what may come next.
Showing remarkable resilience.
Throughout the first half of 2023, the U.S. economy and financial markets proved to be resilient – and so did investors. U.S. stock markets moved higher amid enthusiasm for artificial intelligence and expectations that the Federal Reserve’s tightening cycle might be near an end. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index entered a bull market and the Nasdaq Composite Index delivered its best first-half performance in 40 years, gaining more than 30 percent over the period, reported Barron’s.
The times, they are a changin'.
AI is leading the change charge and it seems investors are taking notice. Late last year, an AI research lab introduced a chatbot that could answer questions – and people were enthralled. Within two months of its introduction, more than 100 million people had engaged with the technology, reported David Curry of Business of Apps. It wasn’t long before AI platforms that could generate images and audio, and help with coding were released.
There is one decision all investors should make: how to allocate the money they’re investing. Asset allocation decisions are usually based on a myriad of factors: expected returns, potential volatility, and appetite for risk, among others.
Leaping over the wall of worry.
The “wall of worry” is an obstacle – or set of obstacles – that investors face. This year, the wall reached a considerable height as inflation, the War in Ukraine, United States-China tensions, slower earnings growth, the high cost of residential real estate, low demand for commercial real estate, tightening credit conditions, and other issues weighed on investor confidence and consumer sentiment.